Comedy inspired by John Darwin's faked death hits screens starring David Walliams

David Walliams, Hugh Bonneville, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Inbetweeners actor Simon Bird star in a new comedy based on the story of canoe man John Darwin, which hits screens on Wednesday, March 4.

Wednesday, 4th March 2020, 5:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th March 2020, 7:01 pm
Sandylands is airing on UKTV Gold

Seaton Carew dad John Darwin first hit the headlines in March 2002 when he was reported missing in a canoe in the North Sea.

His then wife Anne collected more than £500,000 in life insurance payouts as he secretly hid away in their home - leaving their two sons to believe he was dead.

More than five years later in December 2007, Darwin walked into a London police station insisting he had been suffering from amnesia.

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Sanjeev Bhaskar as Les Vegas in Sandylands by King Bert Productions. Photo by Alistair Heap.

But the couple's deceit was uncovered when a photograph emerged of the pair posing together after his supposed death. Darwin served half a six-year prison sentence for the huge fraud.

Now a three-part UKTV series, written by Martin Collins and Alex Finch, will hit screens on Wednesday, March 4 at 10pm on Gold.

Starring comedian, actor and author David Walliams, Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville and Inbetweeners star Simon Bird, it follows twenty-seven-year-old Emily Verma who, having escaped her seaside home town, is forced back when her father Les Vegas, played by Sanjeev Bhaskar (of Goodness Gracious Me fame), goes missing and a bloodied pedalo is washed ashore.

With Les declared 'lost at sea', Emily is charged with putting his affairs in order, organising his memorial and selling the family home.

David Walliams as Derek Swallows and Sophie Thompson as Jeannie Swallows in Sandylands. Photos by Alistair Heap.

In the process of doing this she is befriended by oddball next door neighbours Derek Swallows and his wife Jeannie. Emily also becomes reacquainted with her old best friend and extreme hedonist Tina, who holds the local record for most saveloys consumed in under three minutes; local nightclub owner Terry Chino; and former childhood crush Nathan.

Speaking about the series, Sanjeev said: “It's quirky in a way that I haven't seen for a long time on TV. The place is populated with oddballs, but it's also very real. It has relationships at its heart. That's what drew me to it.”

And about his character, inspired by John Darwin, he said: “Les Vegas is flamboyance gone slightly wrong. He represents that notion of old-fashioned grandeur that he hasn't quite earned. He's like someone who buys a doctor's qualifications online or who learns surgery by watching videos.

“There is something not quite right about him. He's not quite there. But there is an innocence about him, too. He's a sweet guy.”

David Walliams plays Derek Swallows.

Asked about what drew him to the series, he said: “It was so funny. When you get sent a comedy script, your heart often sinks. You think, ‘I bet this isn't going to be funny.’ But this was immediately engrossing.

“It had great roles with very distinctive characters and a very engaging story. That's what all the best TV has. It makes you want to keep watching. You want audiences to be thinking, ‘What happens next?’ It was a terrific read.”